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Latino Family Center Director Says Despite Election Rhetoric, Pittsburgh's Community Is Expanding

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA
Rosamaria Cristello, 28, site director for the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood, sits next to a paper tree made by Latino families on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. She's worked to expand programming at the center during her three years as director.

President Donald Trump spent more than a year of his campaign promising to build a wall along the Mexican border to stop the flow of Hispanic immigrants from coming into the U.S.

Rosamaria Cristello, site director of the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood, says that rhetoric -- now from the White House, not a lone candidate -- is breeding fear among Pittsburgh’s growing Latino community.

90.5 WESA’s Katie Blackley sat down with Cristello, who is Guatemalan and grew up in Arlington, Va., to discuss the recent election and where local Latinos can turn for help.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Portraits of famous Latinos lines the walls of the youth space at the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016. Among the pictured are Roberto Clemente, a Puerto Rican native an Pittsburgh Pirate from 1955-1972. Clemente was the first Latin American player to be inducted to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

On Pittsburgh's geographically scattered Latino community:

"The families, they choose the neighborhood because they like it. They, like their neighbors, they like what's around there. And so what we've done is just ensure that they are connected to the services that are around them. And make sure that if that's where they want to live, then OK, let's make sure that you know how to get to your nearest store, you know how to get the public transportation, you know the schools around you, the afterschool programs around you, the food banks around you, everything. So, for example, one community that's growing right now is in the Arsenal area. We already held one, and we're holding a second parent council meeting there, because the parents there have been requesting our presence."

Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Paintings by children at the Latino Family Center in Hazelwood on Thursday, Dec. 22, 2016 depict what they hope for their community, including social justice issues.

On the availability of services for Spanish-speaking natives:

"The first thing we were really advocating is that there be more bilingual staff across all systems, right? Schools, hospitals, you name it. But now what we're seeing is they're actually trying. There's a lot of positions out there for bilingual staff, but now the challenge is ensuring that there's enough applicants that are bilingual to be able to apply for those jobs. And not just apply, but get through whatever system that organization has to ensure that they are in appropriate positions within the organization."

On community reaction to the recent election:

"There is a deep fear in our community. We've seen an increase in families just incredibly scared. And not just the parents, but the children as well. And so we, through the support of a private donor, have been working with the city's Office of Child Development to provide mental health support to some of the families that just need to process what happened. How can we move forward? Because there is a real fear of being separated from one another but also, a lot of our kids have been experiencing bullying. And so now we have this support and that's really what we're trying to provide right now is just space for them to kind of think everything through."

On the future of the Latino community in Pittsburgh:

"You know, a couple of weeks ago one of our kids here got accepted to Indiana University of Pennsylvania. That's where I went, and I was incredibly happy, and so we went to tour the campus and just seeing her and her family looking around and so excited. I was thinking, 'Yes, we need to make sure that the pathway for all our kids to see themselves in college or as entrepreneurs or whatever they want to do is there.' All the supports that they need to get there, I want to make sure that we have that for them. So that going to tour a college campus isn't so much a highlight but it's more of a norm. Eventually it's like that's just what we do because all of our kids are going to college or all our kids have been successful. So that's in the future. And I'm just excited to continue to build for this community."

Katie Blackley is a digital editor/producer for 90.5 WESA, where she writes, edits and generates both web and on-air content for features and daily broadcast. She's the producer and host of our Good Question! series and podcast. She also covers history and the LGBTQ community. kblackley@wesa.fm
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